Pregnancy center or deception?
Many facilities mislead women about abortion, report says
By JUDY PERES
CHICAGO - Janeen Daniels was on her way into a Chicago clinic for an abortion when a couple approached and suggested she had other options. She accompanied them to a crisis pregnancy center, where she was given a referral for an ultrasound exam of her uterus and the promise of help if she decided to carry her pregnancy to term.
"Once I saw the ultrasound pictures -- he was 10 weeks old, moving already -- I decided to keep him," said Daniels, 29. The child, Steven, is now 3, and Daniels can't imagine life without him. To her the pregnancy center was a godsend.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have my baby now," said Daniels, a nursing assistant with five other children.
The facility she visited is part of a burgeoning movement of pregnancy centers set up by abortion opponents to dissuade women from terminating pregnancies. The centers usually provide free pregnancy tests, counseling, referrals to social-service agencies and material aid such as diapers and baby clothes.
Although a few existed in the U.S. as far back as the 1970s, there are now more pregnancy centers than abortion providers, which have been decreasing in number for 15 years. Estimates of the number of crisis pregnancy centers nationwide range from 2,300 to 4,000, compared with about 1,800 facilities that perform abortions.
To many people, crisis pregnancy centers, sometimes called pregnancy resource centers, provide a valuable service. President Bush is one of their supporters. Women such as Daniels praise the emotional and material support they received, saying they are grateful to have avoided an abortion.
Others agree that reducing abortions should be a public policy goal but criticize the centers for their tactics. Many of the facilities, they say, masquerade as full-service women's clinics and give out false information to pressure vulnerable women into continuing their pregnancies.
The issue has been revived lately as some taxpayers and legislators question the use of federal money to fund such pregnancy centers. A report issued last summer by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that 87 percent of federally funded pregnancy centers reached by his investigators provided false or misleading information about abortion.
According to the report, the centers told potential clients there is a link between breast cancer and abortion, which has been refuted by the National Cancer Institute, and that abortion causes infertility and mental illness, which is not supported by comprehensive reviews of the medical literature.
Allyson Kirk is among the women who feel they were misled. The veterinary technician was headed for an abortion clinic in Manassas, Va., when she found an office in the same strip that advertised free pregnancy tests and said "Women for Choice" on the door.
"I assumed it was the women's clinic where I had an appointment," said Kirk, 24, "and the man behind the counter led me to believe they were expecting me." The counselor asked intrusive questions about her religious beliefs, she said, and then told Kirk she needed to watch a video while she waited for the results of her pregnancy test.
"It was stuffed full of propaganda about the risks of abortion, and (depicted) the instruments they use and a fetus being ripped apart," said Kirk, who had the abortion later at a Planned Parenthood clinic. "It was meant to scare and manipulate me."
Kristin Hansen of Care Net, an umbrella group that provides resources to pregnancy centers, contends the centers do not pressure clients; instead, they want to help women make fully informed choices.
"We don't want (a woman) to feel coerced by her parents, her boyfriend, an abortion provider or the pregnancy center," said Hansen. "We would like each woman to make the decision for herself, but having received all the information she needs and knowing that if she decides to carry the pregnancy to term she's not alone."
Officials at Chicago's Aid for Women, where Daniels went, say they tell callers up front that they do not perform abortions.
"The counseling relationship has to be based on trust," said Sue Barrett, chairman of the center's board, which is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. "Right from the start, we're going to be truthful."
Sharnina Starling-Buford, director of client services at Aid for Women, said her staff is not judgmental and goes over all three options with each client: parenting, adoption and abortion.
The main room of the counseling center at Aid for Women looks a lot like a medical office, with its white cabinets, stainless-steel sink and specimen jars for urine collection. Atop a chest of drawers are four pink-rubber anatomical models of fetuses at various stages of development, nestled in a tiny cradle-like box and covered with a miniature receiving blanket.
Center staff said the models might be used to show a pregnant client what her fetus looks like, but only if she wants to know.
Hansen said nearly all pregnancy centers are "faith-based" and "pro-life." They also are generally aligned with the push toward abstinence until marriage.
"As a Christian organization, we desire that (the centers' clients) would come to know Jesus as lord and savior of their lives," Hansen said.
Limited range of services
"Our primary goal is to share the love of Jesus Christ," she said. "We're open to all local centers if they can sign on to this statement. This ecumenical unity is one reason why there's been such growth in the pregnancy center movement."
About 1,900 crisis pregnancy centers, including Aid for Women, are affiliated with Care Net and Heartbeat International, a second national umbrella group that works closely with Care Net. Other centers are independent.
Two other Christian organizations, Focus on the Family and National Institutes of Family & Life Advocates, help centers acquire ultrasound equipment and convert to medical centers.
That is one of the criticisms voiced by the National Abortion Federation, which issued a report on crisis pregnancy centers last year.
The federation's report states that although many centers look like medical facilities, "Most volunteers who work directly with women are not medical professionals. Their main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-choice beliefs."
Even those centers that are licensed as medical facilities do not provide a complete range of reproductive health services, the report states, since they do not refer clients for abortions or offer birth control.
Many crisis pregnancy centers receive federal support, mainly through programs that fund abstinence-only sex-education programs. According to the Waxman report, anti-abortion pregnancy centers have received more than $30 million in federal funding since 2001, when President Bush took office.
THE GREAT DIVIDE
Family planning clinics that support a woman's right to an abortion and crisis pregnancy centers describe abortion-related topics in very different ways, as evidenced through their publications.
TOPIC: The time between conception and birth
Family planning clinics say "The gestational period"
Crisis pregnancy centers say: "The first nine months of human life"
TOPIC: Emergency contraception
Family planning clinics say: "Birth control (pills) to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse"
Crisis pregnancy centers say: Pills that "could act to kill her preborn child -- a living human being"
TOPIC: First-trimester abortion
Family planning clinics say: "A minor surgical procedure"
Crisis pregnancy centers say: "An act of direct killing that takes the life of a tiny human being"
TOPIC: The safety of first-trimester abortion
Family planning clinics say: "Much safer for women than giving birth"; complications are "rare"
Crisis pregnancy centers say: "... over 100 physical and psychological complications, including blood clots, punctured organs, infections, infertility and even death"
TOPIC: Fetal pain
Family planning clinics say: "The embryo or fetus cannot perceive pain... before the 20th week of pregnancy"
Crisis pregnancy centers say: "Eight-week-old developing baby feels pain and responds to touch"